Sheldon Silver’s army of enablers
Excuses and more excuses from Assembly Democrats
Far more alarming than the evidence of dedicated, long-term sneak-thievery by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is the haplessness of his liberal Democratic enablers — and their inability over many years to denounce shifty, unprincipled behavior even when a loud chorus of public voices has done just that.
Nearly all of state’s editorials boards are crystal clear: Strong calls for Silver’s resignation have been voiced by the News, along with the city’s other major dailies, the Staten Island Advance and papers in Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester. In public opinion polls dating back to 2013, a majority of New Yorkers have said they’d like to see Silver gone.
And that was before his arrest.
But to their lasting shame, many of those who claim the mantle of political leadership have lost their political and ethical bearings, stumbling and grasping in every direction except the right and obvious one: not only deposing Silver as speaker but also swiftly enacting reforms to prevent any repeat of the shame that engulfs the capital.
I recently asked one longtime assemblyman what he thought of the 35-page criminal complaint filed against Silver, which is replete with detailed, credible allegations of extortion and bribery gathered and sworn to by the FBI. We all know that Silver is innocent until proven otherwise, I said; but don’t the accusations bother you?
“I'm not a legal expert,” said the pol, who has spent more than a decade writing laws for the rest of us to follow.
That sad cop-out was scarcely better than the comment from Assemblyman David Weprin of Queens — the son of former Speaker Saul Weprin — who might not have actually read the complaint before offering a novel theory. “In my opinion, it seems to be a financial disclosure mistake,” he told a newspaper.
Give Assemblyman Dick Gottfried of Manhattan credit for at least reading the charges before reaching an equally preposterous conclusion. “I’ve read the complaint,” Gottfried said to City and State newspaper. “To me, it’s distressing that in this country you can end up in handcuffs based on these kinds of flimsy, unsubstantiated allegations.”
Gottfried hinted that Silver is the victim of an unspecified conspiracy. “Many of us, based on decades of political observation, think not only Speaker Silver, but his predecessors, are often easy targets because they challenge entrenched power in New York, whether it’s entrenched economic power or political power,” he added.
Keep in mind that Gottfried and Weprin are concocting defenses that neither Silver nor his attorneys have offered. Silver never claimed to make a “financial disclosure mistake” in explaining why a law firm paid him $3.8 million in referral fees.
Whenever asked about it over the years, the speaker claimed he represented simple folk who needed legal help from time to time — which, according to the U.S. attorney, was a brazen lie; investigators combed a decade’s worth of cases and could find exactly one person represented by Silver.
As for challenging entrenched power: It hardly needs mentioning that Silver is only one year shy of becoming the longest-serving Assembly speaker in New York history, and that he has, from his lofty perch as one of the famed “three men in a room” who negotiate state budgets, personally overseen passage of well over $1 trillion in spending.
Gottfried’s insinuations echo the fanciful notion — put forth by statements of support from the Working Families Party and Mayor de Blasio — that Silver is so indispensable to the protection and advancement of liberal political causes that left-leaning New York simply cannot do without his leadership.
Nonsense. As the old saying goes: The graveyards are full of indispensable people.
More to the point, Silver’s liberal armor has some noteworthy dents. He appears to have worked to keep a 30-acre site, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, undeveloped for half a century, after more than 1,000 low-income families, mostly Latino, had been removed.
As a New York Times investigation concluded, actually building long-promised affordable housing on the site “would have altered the demographics of the neighborhood and put Mr. Silver’s political base in question.” So he stalled it.
And there's the infamous deal in which Silver killed the commuter tax in pursuit of a minor political win upstate. Since the 1999 repeal, New York City has lost an estimated $10.6 billion — money that would come in handy to fund public schools and other programs cherished by his liberal supporters.
If ever there was a time to call your local Assembly member and sound off, this is it. They badly need to hear some voices outside the bubble of Albany, where cowardice and confusion reign.
Louis is political anchor at NY1 News.